Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Reservation Bogey in Lokpal

Over the last few days we have been hearing about the union cabinet's decision to have reservation in Lokpal. This is in my view shows the desperation in union government. They are trying to put as many obstacles in the path of an effective Lokpal as they can. When they have realized that citizens are largely in agreement with the "Team Anna" proposal for an effective Lokpal, they now want to play the age old divide and rule game.

This is completely absurd and I almost feel like saying that let the post of the prime minister of this country and the entire union cabinet be reserved for backward classes. That way perhaps there would not be a need for any other demands for backward class reservations in every walk of life that we face.

The truth of our country is that anyone with power in hands becomes the victimizer and one without the victim. It is far from true that the so called backward classes are victims and the forward classes are the ones who exploit. I doubt if the government officials including IAS officers who are from the reserved category are any better than the ones from the general category when it comes to corruption in their ranks.

This is very mischievous on the part of the government to introduce 50% reservation in the Lokpal. A body they should have the best of the best people in its ranks to defend our public finances from being squandered, and to prevent exploitation of the citizens by corrupt officials is being destroyed, to gain political mileage, and to divide the people, who are are in favour of an effective Lokpal.

This is going to be one long struggle for sure for us.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Anna Hazare Gets His Message Through

What a day! Do I need to say more? The parliament has unanimously resolved for in principal support of Anna Hazare’s three demands on Lokayukt in states, lower bureaucracy and citizens charter. The Lokpal movement had brought the citizens together in support of a corruption free India. This issue was raised predominantly by the urban population and some would say it was dominated by the middle class. I would say not the middle class necessarily but yes the more politically aware citizens were the majority in support of this movement. There were no truckloads filled audiences invited to Ramlila Maidan, the rallies also more or less had spontaneous support. For once people were out in large numbers for a constructive purpose.

Now one might argue that this wasn’t really a victory that “India Against Corruption” and the so called Team Anna were initially demanding. Their bill was never tabled in the parliament. But I for one had never believed that this was really the aim of Team Anna in the first place. It was never possible for the initial demand they were making to be accepted. The parliament was always going to be one to make laws. This was a demand raised in sheer sense of betrayal they had felt when the government’s version of Lokapal bill was revealed. It came to light then that the government is capable of being completely insensitive to public grievance on corruption. Possibly survival instincts of the supporters of corruption in the government had kicked in and they brought about a completely worthless legislation. Their aim in my view always was that the ruling party and ultimately the Parliament take the process of creating an anti-corruption ombudsman seriously. It was a proposal that had first come out in 1969, and had since been repeatedly discussed, but could never transform into a law. Anna has achieved that purpose. He has got his message through.

Over the years our politicians have conformed to the image of being both thick skinned and deaf. I would make an argument that before being corrupt, what they were corruptible and they are corrupt today because the special interest groups (read big businesses) have worked the system to their advantage. This is what causes the multi crore or rather multi lakhs of crores worth of scams that we come to hear about these days. So the politicians had two constituencies the vote banks(read rural poor and marginalized sections of society) and the super rich who would sponsor their political and personal lives. During Anna’s Lokpal movement they have become aware of a third constituency that of the politically aware citizens of our country who are concerned about the issues of governance faced by us, and they have finally responded.

Cutting across political lines they have accepted that corruption that has been troubling the nation for so long has reached a saturation point. By accepting Anna’s three demands they have shown that they are sensitive to genuine demands of the people. They have also shown that they can act with utmost maturity and conduct the proceedings of the house with dignity. This was a welcome sight. I would like to see more of these dignified debates in the parliament and not the walkouts and shouting and storming the well of the house that we witness all too often in the Parliament. I wish this does not become just a one of case but becomes a precedent on how the parliament should function on issues of national importance.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Lokpal Movement - Time to Chose Sides

The more I observe the events of the past week around Anna Hazare unfold the more I am convinced that the arguments being made about unconstitutionality of the movement, about wrongness of the method of protest and demands raised, about this being a middle class movement and not really a grass root movement of real India, about the parliament being supreme, about law making being delayed, about governance being affected, about a foreign government being involved and so, on seem to fall flat on their face.
Citizens of our country have lived with bad governance for too long. We have let corruption become a part of our DNA. We have for long time patiently tolerated corrupt administration. Some have renamed bribes as a convenience charge or a tip, some use it as means of getting ahead of competition, others call it compulsion. The government does not even use the term graft and calls it leakages. We have for too long eroded our conscience and have been too pragmatic in our lives to have allowed this monster to grow as big as it is today. It needs to be reaffirmed now that the time for taking sides is here.
Anna has galvanized the people of our nation for a just cause. There is a specific objective that people have this time, the leadership of this movement has the right credentials and there is a momentum in this movement which is unprecedented in recent history. It is time to choose sides. No longer can the political class hold on to unreasonable control of the public institutions of India. Every system works if the people who run the system make it work. But the political leadership has allowed our institutions to corrode and one wonders if this is what the founding fathers of our constitution would have envisaged for these institutions to function.
The three pillars of the constitution namely the executive, the legislature and the judiciary are meant to remain independent and not encroach on each other’s function and independent they are but efficient they are not. All three pillars have been affected by institutional corruption and they have failed to correct themselves for several decades now. The most responsibility of governance lies with the executive branch but not only are they the most lacking, it appears they are also the ones who are most against a strong Lokpal. This public outcry today is to move the executive, to force them to bring a strong Lokpal bill to the parliament. They will resist but for how long is the question? Can they continue to ignore the public anger against corruption? Can they use arguments about process and procedures to deny people their right?
All processes and procedures, the parliament and the government are meant to serve the people. Can the same procedures be used to deny people what they deserve? One can disagree with many of the points in the Lokpal bill which “India Against Corruption” has brought forward. What was expected is not that the entire bill should have been accepted as is? What was expected is that an honest attempt should have been made to make a strong independent Lokpal. An honest attempt should have been made by the political class to clean them self.
This is time for them to act now. It is time for them to choose sides now. They have to decide whether they will continue to protect their corrupt brethren or will they for once realize that status quo is no longer acceptable to people. They have to choose sides now and reaffirm their loyalty to their electors. Once they are on the side of the right then they can debate on what is the best way to implement the right. But they have to choose the right now. The time to choose has come.

Sunday, 21 August 2011


It is common belief that the fourth estate of a democracy is a free and independent Media. Media’s purpose is clearly that of a mirror that reflects the state of affairs in the nation. It shows us who we are, where we are currently and where we are headed. It reveals and makes transparent the inner workings of the other three pillars of democracy namely the Judiciary, Legislature and the Executive. It on a daily basis or in case of 24x7 news channels minute by minute makes the people aware of the current affairs in the country. So while the legislature is a reflection of the representative nature of our democracy the media is what enables a participatory democracy on a daily basis.
All four pillars of democracy are meant to be independent. Independence and freedom of the media is ensured by the fundamental right to freedom of speech for every individual. That the media is indeed the fourth pillar of democracy is established even more whenever a popular movement rises in the country. This is when the media both thrives on and feeds into the popular movement. This is when the real power of media is revealed and the independence of the media becomes most important.

The present movement for the Lokpal bill is a culmination of years of reporting on corruption issues by the media. There was never a grand design that a movement like this had to be created. While India Against Corruption NGO did organize Anna's protest but it is beyond them to organize the entire media campaign in favour of this movement. This movement evolved over the years because of the failings of the executive that was revealed by the media to the socially aware population of our country. For long the political class has assumed that their decisions would go unquestioned by apolitical people once they have been elected to the legislature. They have thrived on ill informed voters who have brought them to power over and over again on petty issues. They have played politics on petty issues like cast, subsidies, religion, regional identity, and so on and avoided being answerable to voters on bigger issues like corruption, defense, terror and others.

Media savvy population of the country is a new breed of voters who not only want to elect representatives every five years, but also want to participate in the daily workings of our country by staying abreast with the major issues and demanding transparency and action by the executive and legislatures on those issues. Anna Hazare has all but been a catalyst of this movement. The movement was already on for several years now. Anna Hazare has only highlighted the most important issue for the people of our country, and brought that latent public discontent to media’s attention, and through the media, to the attention of the political class. The ruling political party is bearing the brunt of this discontent but this is a message for all representatives that they need to be responsive to peoples concerns even in a non election year. That the political class has resisted this movement as best as it could, shows the culpability of the political class in corruption.

The same politicians who talk about how the Lokpal would undermine the independence of public institutions forget that it is they who have over the years destroyed the independence of our institutions. The Police, CBI, civil service, anti corruption watchdogs like the CVC etc, have all been undermined by political interference. The bogey of independence of the three pillars of democracy that the government purports to be safeguarding in their bill falls flat on its face when one looks at the history of interference by the executive in the workings of our institutions. The cash for vote’s scam, corporate lobbying, MPs asking questions in the parliament for money, the political horse trading that is all but common in our country are examples of how the independence of legislature are undermined. Promise of appointment of judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts after retirement to plum assignments in government committees can very well be used by the executive for interfering with the functioning of the judiciary.

The People of this country through the fourth pillar of our democracy are conveying to the politicians that it is time for them to curtail their own powers when it comes to investigation of corrupt amongst them. It may very well have been possible for them to be self correcting, but they have failed to do so over several decades. They have lost that opportunity. This has allowed corruption to grow deep roots and spread its tentacles to every walk of life. Stronger measures are needed and the people believe that an independent and strong Lokpal with investigative machinery under it but with a limited mandate to deal with only public corruption is a must for our country. All politicians and the government in particular should listen to the people and not try to weather this movement. It can be predicted that the more they resist or the more they try to delay the bigger this social movement will become. It is not a question of whether the government relents; it is a question of when the government relents.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011


So let me recap what happened on 16th of August, 2011. Anna Hazare refused to accept police conditions for his protest in JP Park. Police imposes section 144. Police arrests him and his associates from his residence early morning. They take him to Tihar jail and then he is released by late evening. But Anna refuses to leave the jail till he gets a permission to protest.

This short description of the events of today can very well go into history books if they finally result in the kind of change in our governance which all of us have desired for so long. Else it will be just another routine political protest that the ruling government of the day has been able to tide over and we are back to square one.

I have long believed that corruption whether big or small is the single biggest hurdle in recognition of our true potential as a nation. Lot of intellectual arguments can be made as to what the right “democratic” and “parliamentary” method should have been for bringing about a change. About who has the right to make laws in a democracy and why an elected government should bow down to unelected and self appointed “civil society”. But when you are talking of masses then no matter how intelligent the masses are it is not a time for intellectual debates. These arguments have happened in past and will continue in future but today the question is should the government bow down to Anna or not. Is Anna blackmailing an elected government?

Here is my argument. Supposing the government does bow down. Will it be the first time the government in the center has bowed down from its stated position under pressure? Let me jog your memory a bit. Hasn’t the government of the day in our country bowed down in past, to corporate lobbying, to foreign governments in international negotiations, to terrorists while negotiating hostage release, to our enemy countries in defeat or near defeat in war, to its minority allies to keep the government in power, to political horse trading to retain power, to Pakistan sponsored terrorism by climbing down from previous position of no talks till all stops to constructive dialog; and the list goes on. Well the government in the center has a history of bowing down to people and groups of much less credibility than Anna Hazare. Why such reluctance now?

I would say that in present situation it would only be democratic for a democratically elected government to not remain rigid and to climb down from its stated position once again in history; to perhaps, create history.

They should climb down from their stated position, and accept, that the Lokpal bill they have presented in Parliament does not do enough to address the real issues of corruption. It is also perhaps time for the black sheep in the political hierarchy to step aside and let the white sheep take center stage or for the gray ones to turn white. It is time for the government of the day to choose between black and white and get rid of this menace once and for all. It is a golden moment for Manmohan Singh or who ever it is in the present government who claims to be Mr Clean to really prove than he can really take leadership at this hour, and give the nation what it deserves; a corruption free and productive governance. A strong independent authority to bring justice to victims of corruption would be the first step in that direction. It can be seen, that the nation believes so.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill

I have followed several television debates, and newspaper articles on the new proposed Prevention of Communal & Targeted Violence Act(PCTV) and have heard arguments from both sides. But I have not heard anyone making a balanced analysis that mentions both the flaws and the benefits of the new bill.

An argument being put forward by many of the proponents of this bill(including the drafting committee) claiming this bill is not discriminatory is that "Hindus" will also be protected in Jammu and Kashmir by virtue of them being a minority community there (of course they don't mention it is subject to J&K assembly accepting this bill). The argument being made by some opponents is that it is essentially an appeasement of Muslims. Here is my take on this bill.

Anyone who reads the draft bill is greeted with the statement that states "It extends to the whole of India. Provided that the Central Government may, with the consent of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, extend the Act to that State". There in front of us is the reality of our country, where we have given so much autonomy to a minority community simply for being a majority in a particular state and yet the secessionist and divisive elements prevail in J&K. The moderates demand more autonomy and the extremists demand secession. Positive discrimination alone did not ensure communal harmony.

This forms my prime argument about the inherent flaw in this bill. The flaw is that of division of population in front of law and the definition of the victim "group". My argument is that any amount of special rights to a group for being a victim group will not bring justice finally for the individual. Simply because this is an intractable problem, there is no right division. There is no right definition of a “group” victim or victimizer. In fact if this bill read in exclusion of the definition that this act uses for “group”, and the word group is used in a more general term as understood in common language then this act would be an excellent act and nobody in his right mind would disagree with most of the things mentioned here. In fact the definition of “communal and targeted violence” in this act is coloured by the definition of “group”. The victims of the “group” seem to be the real victims and the other victims are second class citizens when it comes to delivery of justice as per this law.

Let me mention what I have always believed about any division based on groups. I would say when you have to divide, divide down to the individual, not to any particular group. So when you have to protect anyone by law, protect the rights of an individual, irrespective of what group, or subgroup he or she may belong to as per a certain definition of a group.

So I don't quite agree with the definition of group (minority) as per this bill, and special protection for that group. Special privileges for Schedule Cast and Tribes in our country were provided to ensure they are protected and have opportunities of growth. 60 years of positive discrimination has not been enough to bring the SC/ST “group” equal rights and respect.

The current framework has only served to institutionalize that discrimination and bring it in the DNA of our country. The so called reservations have only led to more demands from other groups and subgroups for reservations favouring them. The so called general category has become more antagonized against the SC/ST/OBC because of reduced opportunities for them. The recent cut off of 100% in Delhi University which created such an outcry is of course only in general category.

I fear that further divisions of our society are being created in this anti-riots bill. Every citizen should be equal in the eyes of the law. When you define minority for special privileges, how to you define them? Do you define them only in terms of the religious and linguistic minority in a particular state by population? What if there is a Christian family living in a Muslim dominated ghetto in Nagaland. Who is the minority here the Christian family or their Muslim neighbours? Also why does the bill treat all Schedule Cast as one group, there are majority and minority religions in the SC and ST categories too. What if a majority Christian ST group commits violence against a minority Jain ST group? Where is protection for this “group” under the provisions of this law?

We are a secular country that means citizens are equal in front of the law no matter which religion they belong to. Religion is a private affair for the individual and should have no legal bearing in a secular country, except that every individual has a right to pursue his religious beliefs. The constitution does not say that every specially defined “group” has a right to pursue his religious beliefs. The keyword is "individuals" or “citizens”. This bill has simplified its definition of minority group by using the population in the entire state as a whole. This may be simple to define in a law, but does it address all acts of violence by one “association” on another “association”( the law uses “association” in place of the general term of group which we use in common language).

It is fair to assume the greatest culprits have been the public servants who have been derelict in their duty and have taken sides in a communal violence. That means the law should have restricted itself to sever punishment for such dereliction of duty and should make it mandatory for them to take immediate actions as per law to protect the victims of violence. That would have been enough to ensure that the administration does not become a party to the riots. But creating provisions which discriminate against an individual simply because as per the law he belongs to a majority group is not fair. We as a nation have to evolve and grow over this group and sub-group mentality.

If we have to divide, divide down to the individual and protect every individual's right, by treating him or her equal to any other individual, in the eyes of the law. That is the foremost fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution, every individual is equal before law. I am not a constitutional law expert but my intuitive understanding of right to equality under the constitution is that PCTV act in its present form infringes upon a citizens right to equality before the law. Barring special provisions for advancement of women, children, socially or educationally backward and SC/ST the state cannot create laws that are discriminatory.

Lastly I would like to argue that bringing this divisive draft bill in public domain at a time when public opinion is against the government on the Lokpal bill, is highly suspect, and may very well have been intended to deflect attention.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Independence

An excellent article I read in NY Times about debate in US about independence of Nuclear Regulatory commission. It talks about the standard problems that a regulatory agency of any industry/finance/environment faces. It the agency is not independent it is essentially a rubber stamping agency and a stepping stone for executives who want lucrative careers in the industry which it is meant to regulate. People get in do the bidding for their future employers and move out via the revolving door that exists. We need such debate in our country too.

Click here to view the article.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Flag hoisting in Lal Chauk

While addressing the alienation felt by local population in the Srinagar valley is more important than hoisting the flag, and I am no fan of BJP. But for some reason I do have sympathy for the BJP, on this "agitation of nationalism" that they are organizing. Of course, only as long as they can keep their agitation peaceful.

These are some of the reasons why it does not seem completely mindless to me:

1) The people by themselves do not always agitate, neither separatists nor in this case the BJP workers. The leaders insight them to do so. This is, in a way, a signal to the separatist leaders, Kashmiri leaders, and others that two can play the game. So review your strategy.

2) For too long the nationalism in J&K has been hostage to threats from separatists from the valley. A counter voice is needed in the valley, if they are not to dominate the discourse. Though it needs to be peaceful, it needs to be a political voice, not official administrative voice alone.

3) Flag hoisting should not be limited to the government official functions in J&K. The nationalistic people in J&K need to use the symbolic occasions to let their presence known.

4) It is perhaps not so easy for the locals alone to politically raise the nationalistic voice. A national party is in a position to do so with the political force that is needed.

5) Umar Abdullah has lately been quite belligerent in his autonomy demand. Every time he is not able to control the failing of his own government, he demands more autonomy for state government. Some kind of political message in J&K from the regions of Laddakh and Jammu that we want more integration not less is needed. BJP wants to create base in these regions.

6) Stopping someone from raising the national flag is illegal. National flag is raised for the express purpose of symbolism; that in this country there will be respect for the unity and integrity of the nation. Unless we decide that we are willing to accept secession of the valley, we should not stop the people of India to raise flag in the valley.

7) Police excesses should not be tolerated but law and order is a local subject. The government of J&K is responsible for the local police excesses. Nationalism is a separate issue and police excess is a different issue. These should not be linked.

8)The question of life of dignity for the refugees who had to flee the valley for fear of violence should be raised in the same breath as the sentiments of the separatists.